What Was Willie Mays’ Best Throw Ever? Not 1954, Says U.S. Navy Vet Bobby Hoeft!

Posted December 29th, 2011 by Tom Owens and filed in Bobby Hoeft, Bobby Jo Graham, U.S. Navy, Willie Mays
Bobby Hoeft saw Mays in a
different uniform in 1953.

This week, I’m sharing treasures from the memory vault of Bobby Hoeft, author of When Baseball Was Fun and publisher of Detroit Tigers Quarterly.

Q: In the Navy, what player impressed you most?

A: “In 1953 I was playing with the Norfolk Navy Flyers.  We played against some great baseball players including Dick Groat, Johnny Antonelli and many more but the one player, who, incidentally also played center field, was the incomparable WILLIE MAYS.  He was electric,  amazing, and yet very humble. 

We were playing them at Fort Eustis in Virginia when he made a defensive gem which was even better than his 1954 World Series catch against VIC WERTZ of the Indians at the Polo Grounds.  This play was made just one year earlier on Bobby Jo Graham, our big catcher.  Graham smashed a 450 foot fast ball out into the darkness beyond the left field light poles. Everything was in play out there because there were no fences. 

Bobby Jo was into his home run trot while Mays was busy stationing himself in left field while the left fielder was chasing down the ball.  The ball suddenly comes flying out of the darkness and Willie Mays is now catching the ball and twisting into throwing position while Graham is innocently jogging between 3rd and home plate. 

From our dugout we could see what was happening and began screaming ‘RUN BOBBY JO, RUN!’  But to no good.  Willie had unleashed a missile that never touched the ground.  It was by far the greatest throw ever made in the history of baseball!  AND BOBBY JO WAS OUT.”

Coming Friday: Remembering Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell. 

This Catcher Called for Gaylord Perry’s Spitter

Posted October 18th, 2010 by Tom Owens and filed in Gaylord Perry, Jack Hiatt, Willie Mays
Same Autograph As 1967!

Jack Hiatt wore many caps in his baseball career:

1. Catcher-first baseman
2. Partner-in-crime
3. Director of Player Development, San Francisco Giants

Yep. Hey? What was that second one?

I asked about handling Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry’s “special” pitch. Did umpires ever object?

Hiatt didn’t mince words, writing:

“With Gaylord, he threw his spitter off a fastball sign I gave him. I had to adjust to it! Easier than you would have thought!”

Hiatt is an unsung hero to Giants fans who have rejoiced in the team’s post-season appearance. Hiatt retired after a 16-year career discovering and stockpiling talent. How did he measure his annual success in years when San Francisco didn’t have perfect seasons?

“As long as we could give the Big Club a choice of three to four players, it was a successful year! We had always had, and have, a lot of pitching with us now, and spread all over the major league due to trades.”

Lastly, don’t forget that Hiatt knew how to swing the bat. Exhibit A: April 25, 1969, all before the Candlestick faithful. As he tells it:

“On April 25th, 1969, my first AB with Willie Mays on first and two out, I hit a two-run HR to RF. In the 7th, RBI single and in the 13th, a grand slam walk-off to right center!”

Thanks, http://www.retrosheet.org/, for the coverage!

Pitcher Jack Smith’s 1962 Dodger Welcome

Posted September 13th, 2010 by Tom Owens and filed in 1962 Dodgers, Jack Smith, Jocko, Maury Wills, Willie Mays

If it’s not exciting enough to make the majors, pitcher Jack Smith found his 1962 Dodgers debut in the midst of baseball history.
Teammate Maury Wills was stealing his way to a one-year record 104 bases. From one of the best seats in the house, Smith saw how Wills victimized rival hurlers, writing:

“Maury Wills was a good base stealer and studied the pitchers and replays.”

Smith had a great assessment of his one save in 1962. Did it compare to the thrill of a complete game?

“All saves are important, even in the old days.”

Smith’s Dodgers tied the Giants with an identical record to end the regular season. For the last time ever, the National League would call for a three-game tie-breaker playoff.

In the second game, Smith watched from the mound as two future Hall of Famers faced off.

He came in to relieve after the Giants scratched out two singles, the second from Willie Mays. Smith surrendered a run-scoring single to pinch-hitter Ed Bailey. When Mays tried to advance to third, umpire Jocko Conlan seemed to switch his call from safe to out. The indecision brought a rhubarb from Mays, third base coach Whitey Lockman and manager Alvin Dark. Did Conlan flip-flop, even getting it wrong?

Smith remains diplomatic about what unfolded:

“Yes, I think it was a fair call.”

Smith got the last word on the Giants, despite their advancement to the ’62 World Series. On June 12, 1964, the transplanted Milwaukee Brave posted three innings of hitless relief in Candlestick Park.

“It was fun to pitch in the Big Leagues. Always a pleasure.”